Myanmar: Show Us The Money And Go Away


June 12, 2013: Now that the government has new peace deals with the northern tribes, China is seeking resumption of work on their hydroelectric dams up there and a crackdown on drug production (and smuggling of the stuff into China). The Burmese army has been going after the tribal drug operations up north for years. But the renewed tribal rebellion two years ago allowed for an increase in drug production and smuggling. The two major tribal militias (SSA-S and UWSA) up there have been making a lot of money in the drug business. Opium and heroin production have been revived and methamphetamine manufacturing has become huge. Called "yaba" ("crazy drug") locally, most of it is smuggled out via Thailand. Over the last few years production of yaba tablets has soared. The meth labs are easier to conceal than poppy fields (opium is the sap of poppy plants which is then chemically processed into heroin) and the meth labs are believed to produce several hundred million tablets a year. The tribal rebels, especially the UWSA, use the profits to buy more weapons for their fighters and run their rebel organizations. The government has been in a weak bargaining position here but worked out new peace deals in the last month. It remains to be seen if this will have an immediate impact on the drug trade. The Chinese are supplying the cash to make these peace deals work and expect a sharp drop in meth and heroin coming across the border. The Chinese are particularly anxious to cut the supply of meth, which is cheaper and creates more addicts. Chinese police are on the offensive against the drug trade and in the last two months have made over a thousand arrests along the southwest borders and seized over three tons of drugs. But this will be largely futile unless they can get Burma to shut down a lot of the production.

China wants to reduce the power of the tribal militias and will spend money to make that happen. Currently the Burmese government stands to make $1.5 billion a year from the Chinese gas and oil pipelines. The Chinese save even more because of the cheaper gas and oil. While the gas is produced off shore, the oil is now cheaper to transport because of the pipeline, which takes the oil to energy starved southwest China.

The anti-Moslem violence is spreading to Malaysia, where Moslem and Burmese migrants have been fighting with each other. The local Moslems (61 percent of the population) have not gotten involved. Such religious violence is rare in Malaysia, where that sort of thing could tear the country apart and cause immense destruction. That won’t be easy, since there are over 30,000 Wa tribesmen (belonging to the UWSA or United Wa State Army) in the northeast who derive much of their income from the drug trade. Just asking them to disarm and lose their drug income won’t be easy. There are only about 600,000 Wa people in the north but they are a tough bunch and are cheaper to pay off than fight. That has become more expensive, as the Wa have prospered from the drug trade. Now some Wa want to establish an autonomous Wa territory in Shan State. Making peace work will be a major chore.

It’s been a year since anti-Moslem violence broke out. There are still 140,000 refugees (mostly Moslem) from all that strife. Since last June some 200 people (mostly Rohingya) have died in ethnic and religious violence, mainly in Rakhine State. There the population of 3.8 million contains about 800,000 Moslems, mostly Rohingyas. These are Bengalis, or people from Bengal (now Bangladesh) who began migrating to Burma during the 19th century. At that time the British colonial government ran Bangladesh and Burma and allowed this movement, even though the Buddhist Burmese opposed it. Britain recognized the problem too late, and the Bengali Moslems were still in Burma when Britain gave up its South Asian colonies after World War II (1939-45). The current violence has caused over 150,000 Rohingya to flee their homes, many of them seeking shelter in Thailand, Bangladesh, and Malaysia. The Rohingya say the government is starving those in refugee camps and not punishing local Buddhists who attack Moslems. Arrests have been made but Moslem attackers are punished much more severely than Buddhists.

June 4, 2013: There’s been another outbreak of anti-Moslem violence in Rakhine State, with at least three Moslems dead.

May 30, 2013: Peace talks with the Kachin tribal rebels finally succeeded with both sides agreeing to end two years of renewed fighting. The Kachin ended their 17 year truce with the government in 2011 because the Chinese economic projects in tribal areas are causing major problems for the tribal peoples. The Chinese had found it more productive to work in the shadows, where bribes and threats could be used more effectively. This favored the ethnic Burmese and screwed the tribes. China tried to ignore the tribal unrest in northern Burma so that Chinese economic projects (hydroelectric dams, mines, and pipelines) could proceed. This did not work once the Kachin rebelled again. The subsequent fighting caused thousands of casualties and over 100,000 refugees. The peace deal is meant to handle tribal complaints and allow some of the Chinese projects to go forward. This is a triumph of hope over experience as the ethnic Burmese and Chinese tend to stick it to the tribes eventually. The government insists it won’t go that way this time because of the new democratic government in Burma and the ability of world media to watch what happens in the tribal areas.

May 29, 2013: In the north (Shan State) two days of violence between Moslems and Buddhists left one dead and five wounded. It began when a Buddhist woman was attacked and injured by a group of Moslem men. A Buddhist mob of at least thirty men destroyed a mosque and several homes and businesses belonging to Moslems.

May 27, 2013: China has completed construction of six oil storage tanks on an island off the west coast. The island is where oil tankers will unload their cargo, which will then move via the pipeline to southern China at the rate of 440,000 barrels a day. This is supposed to begin next year, when more storage tanks are completed (holding a total of 7.6 million barrels). Natural gas from nearby offshore gas wells is supposed to start moving by pipeline to China this year. China is still trying to get its $3.6 billion in hydroelectric dam projects in northern Burma going again. These projects have been halted for two years because of tribal unrest.

May 26, 2013: Japan is making major economic moves in Burma. Now that the country is off so many sanctions lists, Japan is coming in big time. As part of that policy, the Japanese government is loaning Burma half a billion dollars for infrastructure construction and forgiving $3.5 billion in past loans made to the military government that long ruled Burma (and was not easy to do business with). The military leadership gave up much of their power because they finally noticed that democracy and a market economy had brought affluence to many of their neighbors and that holding on to dictatorship and a state controlled economy was a losing proposition.

May 24, 2013: The local government is seeking to implement a new law that would restrict Moslem families in Rakhine State to two children. This is part of the growing anti-Moslem sentiment along the Bangladeshi border. The government is also trying (without much success) to persuade Rakhine Moslems to say they are Bengali and move to Bangladesh (the Bangladesh government is not cooperating with that). In fact, no Moslem (or non-Moslem) nation wants to accept Moslem refugees from Rakhine State.



Article Archive

Myanmar: Current 2020 2019 2018 2017 2016 2015 2014 2013 2012 2011 2010



Help Keep Us From Drying Up

We need your help! Our subscription base has slowly been dwindling.

Each month we count on your contributions. You can support us in the following ways:

  1. Make sure you spread the word about us. Two ways to do that are to like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.
  2. Subscribe to our daily newsletter. We’ll send the news to your email box, and you don’t have to come to the site unless you want to read columns or see photos.
  3. You can contribute to the health of StrategyPage.
Subscribe   Contribute   Close